September 15, 2014
The following prediction is not meant to shock as much as it is intended to acknowledge Apple’s new reality: 2014 may well be the last year that Apple cloaks itself in exclusivity, selective media outreach and surprise announcements when it launches new products and technologies.Why the shift? Why will 2015 be any different?
Because the world has changed.
Consumers have changed.
Competition has changed.
And the mobile handset market that Apple so brilliantly revolutionized with its 2007 iPhone continues to evolve ever faster.
Every smartphone company – including the iconic Apple brand – must eventually adjust its model to match reality.
No single brand can stay atop the pyramid of popularity and value forever, and whether Apple likes it or not, a simple marketplace fact remains true: While the light still shines bright on Apple, that spotlight will have to be shared with other technology providers, smartphone makers, retailers and mobile vendors.
Even if Steve Jobs were still alive, Apple would have to adjust to the new realities of the marketplace because time simply does not stand still, and neither do consumers, competitors, or the media.
Market demands change
The “Twitter effect” of shortened attention spans has filtered to consumer electronics and technologies, an area where Apple traditionally has dominated.
Yes, Apple’s iPod fundamentally changed how consumers buy and listen to music.
And, yes, Apple greatly influenced our expectations about what smartphones could and should do beyond making phone calls, sending texts or taking snaps at any moment, from anywhere to share with everyone, everywhere.
But today’s consumers – content not too long ago to wait patiently for a year to get their hands on a newer, better phone and operating system – now want upgrades every other week or month.
As Google and the Android platform continue to chip away at Apple’s global market share (80.02 percent Android versus 14.8 percent Apple) and U.S. market share (51.5 percent Android versus 42.4 percent Apple), the once-dominant “iProduct” cartel is gradually losing its category leadership and caché as a differentiator for many.
Brands that survive must adapt
Apple may still be a popular and well-loved brand – No. 1 on the LEAP Index from New Media Metrics – and its success at catering to the high end of the product line cannot be argued.
But its top position is showing signs of slipping (LEAP score fell 2.2 percent from 2013), mostly because other brands are entering the public mindset or because other smartphones – even as they mimic Apple’s interface and functionality – make Apple less novel and attractive, especially in the United States.
Today when a stranger hands over a phone and asks you to take his or her photo, that handset is just as likely to be a Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Nokia or LG as an iPhone. And for the most part, it will look like and function as well as – sometimes better than – one with an Apple logo on it.
Media has changed, too
Apple already has made its moves to expand into new areas and products lines, including a sleeker iPhone 6 announced at its ever-popular September launch event, a fitness-focused and wearable Apple Watch, even a free U2 album to a half-billion iTunes customers in 119 countries – the biggest album release in history.
The U2 giveaway was a surprise. The iPhone 6 and Apple Watch rumors were not.
If consumer needs and expectations have changed, so too have PR and media communities. And that can be seen in the waning shock-wow-shiny-shiny appeal of Apple’s announcements.
Showing signs that its exclusive leaks, sneak peeks and intensely controlled information surrounding product launches and announcements are being replaced by more direct outreach and a more broadly experienced internal team.
Less exclusivity, more transparency are harbingers of inevitable change
Much to his credit, Apple CEO Tim Cook has assumed the role of Apple CEO very capably – a feat I doubted in his early days.
Mr. Cook has made himself more available to the press. He continues to focus on the big ideas and vision that built and sustain Apple’s credibility as an innovator. He has made the financial moves – including the 7-for-1 stock split on June 4 – that boosted investor confidence in Apple’s continued commercial success.
Also at this year’s Sept. 9 launch event, Apple broke long-rumored news of ApplePay and its support for near-field communications (NFC) to make mobile payments and in-location engagement a thing of the future across all devices – Apple and, inadvertently, Android.
As some have predicted, Apple’s support of NFC technology to pay by a tap of a mobile phone could alter the merchant-consumer experience as we know it – even sound the death knell of the plastic credit card in favor of a digital wallet (note to leather wallets: you are next).
But Apple does so knowing that its NFC support means sharing the technology with other players this time – retailers, merchants, credit card companies, Android mobile device manufacturers and many non-Apple aligned technology and software companies.
APPLE WILL always be a unique and beloved brand. But as it evolves, it is finally learning that truly great brands pursue openness, transparency and a shared vision as avidly as they pursue innovation and their own unique niche.
Next year, maybe I will get an invitation.
Vanessa Horwell is chief visibility officer of ThinkInk, Miami Beach, FL. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.